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A Book of Myths

Page: 16

ENDYMION

To the modern popular mind perhaps none of the goddesses of Greece—not even Venus herself—has more appeal than has the huntress goddess, Diana. Those who know but little of ancient statuary can still brighten to intelligent recognition of the huntress with her quiver and her little stag when they meet with them in picture gallery or in suburban garden. That unlettered sportsman in weather-worn pink, slowly riding over the fragrant dead leaves by the muddy roadside on this chill, grey morning, may never have heard of Artemis, but he is quite ready to make intelligent reference to Diana to the handsome young sportswoman whom he finds by the covert side; and Sir Walter’s Diana Vernon has helped the little-read public to realise that the original Diana was a goddess worthy of being sponsor to one of the finest heroines of fiction.

But not to the sportsman alone, but also to the youth or maid who loves the moon—they know not why—to those whom the shadows of the trees on a woodland path at night mean a grip of the heart, while “pale Dian” scuds over the dark clouds that are soaring far beyond the tree-tops and is peeping, chaste and pale, through the branches of the firs and giant pines, there is something arresting, enthralling, in the thought of the goddess [Pg 27] Diana who now has for hunting-ground the blue firmament of heaven where the pale Pleiades

“Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.”

Tennyson.

“She gleans her silvan trophies; down the wold
She hears the sobbing of the stags that flee
Mixed with the music of the hunting roll’d,
But her delight is all in archery,
And naught of ruth and pity wotteth she
More than her hounds that follow on the flight;
The goddess draws a golden bow of might
And thick she rains the gentle shafts that slay.
She tosses loose her locks upon the night,
And through the dim wood Dian threads her way.”

Andrew Lang.

Again and again in mythological history we come on stories of the goddess, sometimes under her best known name of Diana, sometimes under her older Greek name of Artemis, and now and again as Selene, the moon-goddess, the Luna of the Romans. Her twin brother was Apollo, god of the sun, and with him she shared the power of unerringly wielding a bow and of sending grave plagues and pestilences, while both were patrons of music and of poetry.

When the sun-god’s golden chariot had driven down into the west, then would his sister’s noiseless-footed silver steeds be driven across the sky, while the huntress shot from her bow at will silent arrows that would slay without warning a joyous young mother with her newly-born babe, or would wantonly pierce, with a lifelong pain, the heart of some luckless mortal.

Now one night as she passed Mount Latmos, there [Pg 28] chanced to be a shepherd lad lying asleep beside his sleeping flock. Many times had Endymion watched the goddess from afar, half afraid of one so beautiful and yet so ruthless, but never before had Diana realised the youth’s wonderful beauty. She checked her hounds when they would have swept on in their chase through the night, and stood beside Endymion. She judged him to be as perfect as her own brother, Apollo—yet more perfect, perhaps, for on his upturned sleeping face was the silver glamour of her own dear moon. Fierce and burning passion could come with the sun’s burning rays, but love that came in the moon’s pale light was passion mixed with gramarye. She gazed for long, and when, in his sleep, Endymion smiled, she knelt beside him and, stooping, gently kissed his lips. The touch of a moonbeam on a sleeping rose was no more gentle than was Diana’s touch, yet it was sufficient to wake Endymion. And as, while one’s body sleeps on, one’s half-waking mind, now and again in a lifetime seems to realise an ecstasy of happiness so perfect that one dares not wake lest, by waking, the wings of one’s realised ideal should slip between grasping fingers and so escape forever, so did Endymion realise the kiss of the goddess. But before his sleepy eyes could be his senses’ witnesses, Diana had hastened away. Endymion, springing to his feet, saw only his sleeping flock, nor did his dogs awake when he heard what seemed to him to be the baying of hounds in full cry in a forest far up the mountain. Only to his own heart did he dare to whisper what was this wonderful thing that he believed had befallen him, and although he [Pg 29] laid himself down, hoping that once again this miracle might be granted to him, no miracle came; nor could he sleep, so great was his longing.


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